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What are ‘mudras’ in yoga?
Mudra means ‘seal’, ‘gesture’ or ‘mark’. The yoga mudras are special movements that are incorporated into the practice of yoga. They are often practised with the hands and fingers but also can be done with the feet. They facilitate the flow of energy through one’s body and enhance the effectiveness of one’s practice.
For many years, the concept of using mudras during my yoga practice was a little confusing and blurry. To be honest, I used them constantly without really knowing or understanding their energetic and connective power.
It was only when I started the practice of pranayama taught by Swami Gitananda, that I started understanding and feeling the subtle connections created by those simple gestures, from one side of my body to the other or in a specific area of my anatomy.
I must say that effective and transformative use of mudras is not something that you can grasp the first time and you might not feel very much for a while. This is normal and to be expected. With perseverance, soft practice, patience and open-mindedness you might be able to draw yourself inward through the practice of the mudras.
There are hundreds of mudras that have been developed over the centuries, but here I will focus on my eight favourites that I regularly use during postures, pranayama or meditation.
Through my own practice and through my teachings, I have personally experienced their efficiency in providing health, empowerment and serenity. They are great for our wellbeing, so don’t be afraid to try them out!
1. Anjali mudra:
Originally a sacred greeting or salutation, this gesture is often translated as ‘I bow to the divinity within you from the divinity within me’ (aka Namaste). The Anjali mudra is at the centre of yogic practice. It is used as a gesture of composure, a pose to centre one’s self and to enhance the state of meditation. When both palms of the hands are placed together, they represent the shape of the heart, but also a process of unification between the right and left hemispheres of the brain, the yoking of our active and receptive natures.
To perform the Anjali mudra, press the palms of your hands together. The tips of the fingers should be together and pointing upwards. The palms can either be firmly together or with a small space in between, depending on the practice. The thumbs are held at the location of the Anahat chakra, in the centre of the chest at the level of the heart. Sometimes the thumbs will be placed at the third eye (Ajna chakra) and the hands may be placed at the side of the body or at the back.
2. Chin mudra
The psychic gesture of consciousness. This mudra is used in either seated meditation or pranayama such as ujjayi or Adham pranayama. This gesture can be used during meditation (it has a grounding effect on the mind) and during the chanting of the sacred sound OM at the beginning or end of class. During mahat yoga pranayama (the full breath practice), your prana (energy) links up terminals in the hands and make connections to the apraakasha bindu which governs sectional breathing from the medulla oblongata situated in the back of the brain. The chin mudra also connects energy and nerve pathways to the chin bindu associated with the part of the brain that governs abdominal breathing.
To make the chin mudra one touches their thumb to their index finger and then places the palms down on the thighs. It can also be adapted to have the palms facing up during meditation and chanting.
3. Chinmaya mudra
The psychic gesture of awareness. It is a powerful mudra that promotes physical and mental health. The Chinmaya mudra connects energy and nerve pathways associated with the part of the brain that governs mid-chest breathing. To create the Chinmaya mudra one must first touch the thumb to the index finger and then fold the fingers into the palm.
4. Adhi mudra
This is the primal gesture, the first mudra because it is the first gesture that an infant can perform with the hands. This symbol and ritual gesture has a calming and quieting effect on the mind and the nervous system.
The Adhi mudra connects energy and nerve pathways associated with the part of the brain that governs upper-chest breathing.
It is performed in the same way as the chinmaya mudra but with the thumb folded into the palm of the hand.
5. Brahma mudra
The gesture of supreme spirit. It has the power to revitalise one’s whole system. The Brahma mudra connects energy and nerve pathways associated with the part of the brain that governs the lungs and the complete breath action. To make it, place both hands in fists, as in Adhi mudra. Then join the knuckles at navel with palms facing up.
6. Ganesha mudra
Ganesha mudra helps to bring self-confidence and the strength to overcome obstacles or anything that holds us back.
This mudra is often used during asanas like in binding poses where strength and power are needed. The mudra is great support during a difficult yoga posture. It relieves stress and tension and uplifts the spirit.
Bring both hands in front of your chest with your elbows bent. Position the left hand with the palm facing outwards in such a way that your thumb points towards your solar plexus and your little finger points towards your collar bone.
Form a claw by bending the four fingers of your left hand and clasp them with the four fingers of your right hand. In this position, your right palm should be facing towards your chest.
7. Matangi mudra
Matangi mudra is about transformation – it connects us with our inner fire. This mudra infuses us with a sense of confidence and self-power, creating clarity and lucidity. Fold your hands in front of your solar plexus. Now extend both middle fingers and join them at the tips. Direct your attention to the breath in the stomach area. This mudra is extremely useful for the overall inner harmony of mind and body.
8. Nasarga mudra
This is the mudra used during the practice of alternate nostril breathing (Nadi shodana or Surya behdana).
The index and middle fingers are placed between the eyebrows. Your thumb, ring finger, and small finger are relaxed on the sides of your face. This mudra will help your concentration and enhance your focus during your breathing exercises.